Glass-blown vases, detailed canvases and intricate cedar hats and masks line the white walls of the Evergreen Gallery at Evergreen State College in Olympia.
Artists from around the Pacific Rim are represented in “The Longhouse at 25: Across the Waters,” an exhibition celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center that was postponed due to the COVID pandemic.
Known as an international hub for Indigenous arts, culture and education since 1995, the longhouse – named s’gʷi gʷi ʔ altxʷ or “House of Welcome” in the Lushootseed language – is the first Tribally-directed Native arts center on a college campus in the U.S.
Curated by the Seneca artist Linley Logan, the gallery has collected pieces since putting a call out for artists in January. New artists, students and those within the longhouse’s circle have spent months creating art and working to submit it.
Due to the pandemic, some post offices around the world were unable to ship items to the longhouse. Artists, like some of the Māori artists in New Zealand, had to find other ways to display their work by sending photographs or digital files for display.
“It’s been really tough. The usual venues, galleries and income for artists have been affected tremendously by the pandemic. So we’re very grateful to those who sent in the work and made the gallery a success” said Longhouse Director Laura VerMeulen, who is Tlingit and Haida.
Comanche artist Cynthia Masterson’s piece “Recipe for a Quarantine” features a whisk with a beautiful design created in glass beads on the handle. The beaded whisk stands inside a glass measuring cup filled with white beads, like flour being measured for a cake.
“Cultural Burdens III” by Northern Arapahoe and Seminole artist Carol Emarthle Douglas depicts a series of women – each carrying a miniature woven basket or a small cradleboard with a baby on their back. The design can be seen from the inside and outside of the basket, intricately woven with waxed linen, red and yellow cedar bark.
The two pieces, both created within the last year, reflect the solemn but resilient spirit of many artists during the pandemic.
“It’s been such a difficult time, but so much beautiful art has come out of it,” said Evergreen’s Vice President for Tribal Relations, Arts and Culture Kara Briggs – a Sauk-Suiattle Tribal member.
Makah artist T. McCarty, a sophomore studying metalsmithing, submitted her 2017 glass piece “Orca” in the show.
While attending an artist-in-residency workshop at the college, students like McCarty were invited to bring designs for a glass-working session. She brought the design for “Orca” and made her first glass piece.
“I had this concept in mind about a whale that was in the ocean, and it had this level of comfort and kept coming back and spouting,” she said.
The dark blue glass reflects the shine of the overhead gallery lights onto the white pillar below, revealing the orca among the ocean waves in the piece.
With hand-dyed wool, the fully-twined button blanket – named “Fish Net Blanket” – was created by Squaxin Island artist Andrea Wilbur-Sigo for her son’s high school graduation ceremony.
The blanket, and two others, hang off the shoulders of three mannequins in the center of the gallery. Each decorated with woven shirts, beaded medallions or a woven cedar hat, Wilbur-Sigo’s piece and the work of six other artists come together to create a trio of Native fashion.
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Natasha Brennan covers Washington state tribes’ impact on our local communities, environment and politics, as well as traditions, culture and equity issues, for McClatchy media companies in Bellingham, Olympia, Tacoma and Tri-Cities.
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“It’s always such an honor to participate in exhibits for the longhouse,” Wilbur-Sigo said. “I love to see how the work of artists with different skills and expertise come together to make a beautiful gallery.”
“The Longhouse at 25: Across the Waters” runs through Jan. 29 and is located on the second floor of Evans Hall (Library building) in the Evergreen Gallery. For up-to-date information on hours of operation, visit evergreen.edu/longhouse/markets-and-exhibits.
This story was originally published December 23, 2021 5:00 AM.